I usually enjoy planning hikes and climbs. The maps get spread across the floor, the dog-eared books litter the table and a path is worn between google earth and the coffee pot. However, when a friend comes out hiking, I always feel a little pressure to find the perfect trip to suit their expectations. So it was when Captain Orange confirmed that he would have a day in August to throw himself at whatever the mountains might offer. Knowing him as I do made the job of planning pretty easy. Something difficult with just a hint of the unknown thrown in. When I discovered that getting to Bow Peak involved a sketchy fording of the Bow River which might actually be too strong for safe passage, I realized this was the place for us.
From the Google Earth screen capture, I’ve drawn our route which begins on the icefields parkway, skirts some marshland then crosses Bow lake as it falls into the raging Bow River. If the river had been too strong, our backup plan was to cross the highway and climb Cirque Peak but the fates approved and allowed us to pass.
In the picture Mike makes the crossing which was about knee deep but with a pretty strong current that required one to take the task serious least you be carried down the rapids. The route then meanders up a drainage that contained a magical mixture of flowers, gentle waterfalls, glades and grass. For the better part of forty minutes we barely made any progress as we constantly stopped and admired it all while we made futile attempts to capture it with photographs.
We finally climbed above the treeline where Mike found some good granite to do some scrambling. Much of the rock in the Rockies is weather beaten limestone which tends to confine technical rock climbing to small areas of ‘good rock.’ In the picture here, this outcrop was an unusual granite that proved to be a good warm-up along the way.
After gaining the saddle between Bow Peak and Crowfoot Mt. we enjoyed the view of the valley as we surveyed our best route up . The funny thing about the mountains is that things look differently from different angles and different altitudes. From the saddle, what appeared to be gravel sized rock turned out to be a jumbled mass of rock sized between a living room and a rubics cube! An unfortunate characteristic of these boulders was that none of them seemed to be stable. Every foot placement and handhold caused each rock to wobble and slide a bit. It gave one the impression that you were about to slide down the pitch with several thousand tonnes of rock grinding you up like a canary in a cement mixer. In the picture above, I can’t hide my displeasure with the sensation in spite of my rational understanding that these were not actually going to tumble down the pitch.
From the video you can get a sense of the endless boulders. But with determination and many brief rests, we won the ridge, a precarious knifeblade of decaying rock and massive stacked blocks.
While I chose a line that had a drop merely on only one side, Mike tip-toed across the blade of the knife interrupting his puffing with the occasional awed-imbued laugh. Of course you only need one side to fall down so I’m not sure why I felt safer but the mind is a funny thing. It did allow me to get some good shots of Mike on the ridge line. This picture comes close to expressing the sensation of space that being on a thin rope of land at the top of the earth creates. The ridge finally ended at the summit (9401ft) where we wrote our names in the summit register and drank in the view. As great as summits are, I often feel compelled to leave them. I have an acute sensation of how much effort I am from being safely on the ground. Lingering on a summit feel as bit like a game of chicken to me though it was a tough sell to convince Mike that we should probably make our way down.
By the time we made it off the steepest section and back to where we could hike out, the conversation had tapered off through tiredness. Though when it came time to cross the lake, a lively debate ensued as to whether the sun had melted the glaciers enough over the day to raise the level of the water and make our crossing more difficult. Examining our pictures from the morning we comically realized we crossed in a different spot. I prefer to imagine that the Fates opened a gate for us in our morning crossing and were now trying to close that gate by raising the water level. The rain that began to fall as soon as we closed the car doors certainly amplified the sense of Fortuna’s blessing.
It was a great day with so many awe filled spectacles that each new one drove the next one out of my memory: torrential rivers, delicate flowers, stark valleys, pristine lakes, distant glaciers, accomplishment, adrenaline. Lung-burning serenity is one of many fleeting sensations in the mountains. Experiencing such fleeting moments with a good friend I think helps them endure.